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Least Terns Preserve on the Los Angeles Beach

Bird habitat and nesting grounds on Los Angeles Beach

I helped a local artist on a volunteer project that produced a garden mural at a local elementary school. I was known as the "bird woman" of the mural since I added hummingbirds, pigeons, well as butterflies, bumblebees and caterpillars to the bright wall mural that forms the background to an outdoor classroom.

A phone call followed with a request to draw the birds for some new signs going up at the Least Tern nesting preserve on the Pacific beach in of the West Los Angeles communities. It's just a few miles from my home...and I had been hearing about the efforts to protect some of their nesting sites. So the phone call was a delightful reason to explore what had already piqued my interest.

So I enticed my husband to go with me to take a quick look -- and a few photos -- of the preserve...hoping to get some quick sketches and photos that would add a bit of dramatic flair to the simple line drawings they want for their signs.

What I discovered was a large area fenced with chain link must be more than an acre of land. I had just spent a long time photographing within a block of this area on Friday and had completely overlooked its presence. But the fenced preserve sports stuffed scarecrows attached to the corner posts...rough, descriptive signs along the sides...and some dead crows inside the fence.

Dead crows?

My friend mentioned that crows are the natural predators of the eggs and baby terns, and that the Fish and Wildlife staff had found that putting some dead crows in the preserve kept the predation to a minimum. Smart birds!!! (It reminded me of the dead crow I had seen in the Japanese rice fields last year.)

I squatted to press my camera up against the chain link fence and try to capture some shots of the female sitting on the nest nearest me. (Oh for a good telephoto lens...) and was delighted to spot two fledglings scurrying about flapping their wings at each other, dodging and jumping and hiding under the white pipes that had been placed here and there as cover for the birds.

The adults were dive bombing each other as an adult would return to the preserve with a fish in its mouth. The squawking was delightful for the few minutes I was there...but it made me wonder what the neighbors thought!

The preserve was a unique little micro-enviroment of low rolling sand dunes with a whisper of green foliage topping them. What a contrast with the neatly raked recreational beach outside that chain link fence!

It was fascinating that such a tiny bit of nature had been protected in the midst of this endless stretch of manicured beach. It made me wonder if people realized that the "real" beach is not pure, clean sand with just a smattering of debris ... but a natural habitat of gentle sand dunes topped with greenery! What a concept!

We take the status quo for granted...and it is only with attention, determination and alert curiosity that we can sort through manicured urbanity to discover what natural wonders we are missing.

In looking up the following reference to give you about Least Terns, my curiosity proved fruitful. I discovered that there are other subspecies of Least Terns on the East Coast, and in the interior -- and that they are all endangered. So while this little story is about Least Terns hanging onto their tiny little enclave in the heart of Los Angeles' millions of summer vacationers...there just might be some tenacious Least Terns in your neighborhood, too. Check it out... just another subtle wonder that will brighten your day!!!!

For more articles about California Nature

California Beach Communities
Common Native Plants of Southern California Uplands
Natural Los Angeles Resources
Common Native Wildlife of Southern California
Common Native Birds of Southern California
Attracting California birds with native plants
Los Angeles Urban Forest
There's a Park Near You in Los Angeles
News about the SoCal Environment
Least Terns Preserve on the LA Beach
Visiting California Beach Communities - An Overview
Los Angeles Area Nature Link List